The Customs Department has ramped up checks on potential cigarette smugglers as a wave of massive busts take place at Cyprus’ airports and crossing points.

Recent weeks have seen several high-profile confiscations take place with most of those caught attempting to smuggle cheap cigarettes and tobacco from the north into the UK via Cyprus’ airports.

Twice in the last week, two Turkish Cypriots have received fines worth €8,000 and €7,000 apiece for attempting to smuggle tens of thousands of cigarettes and dozens of kilograms of tobacco from the north to the United Kingdom from Larnaca airport.

In addition, last month, a total of 50 untaxed cigarette cartons and 24 kilograms of tobacco were confiscated at Paphos airport on September 24.

The Customs Department at the time said the products had been found in luggage destined for the United Kingdom.

Just a few days later, the Customs Department reported a wealth of busts of tobacco products at Larnaca airport which had been bound for the United Kingdom, with hundreds of cigarette cartons and dozens of kilograms of tobacco seized from passengers bound for London and Manchester.

In the latter case, the passenger was caught with a total of 87 cartons of 200 cigarettes and 12.5kg of rolling tobacco. He was fined €7,000.

Busts were not just restricted to the airport. Back in May, customs workers at the Dheryneia crossing point seized almost 30 kilograms of tobacco bought in the north from a British tourist who intended to take the products back to their country.

Speaking to the Cyprus Mail about the increase in tobacco busts, a spokesman for the Customs Department said that there is an “upward trend in people attempting to smuggle untaxed tobacco out of the country”.

“People engaging in this practice include Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and third country nationals, and they all do so because they want to make money by selling the products,” they said.

They said that in response, the Customs Department has “increased its activities and is carrying out more checks, at the airports, at the crossing points, and also responding as necessary to tip offs.”

A particular destination for untaxed and smuggled tobacco products, they said, is the United Kingdom.

“Smuggling tobacco products to the United Kingdom is attractive because of the high price of tobacco products there. There is a great disparity between the price of cigarettes and tobacco in the north and in the United Kingdom,” they said.

This rings true given the current state of the United Kingdom’s tobacco market. According to the country’s Office of National Statistics, the average price of a 20-pack of cigarettes in the United Kingdom is £14.55 (€16.81). In the Republic it is about €4.70 and in the north it is around €1.60-€2.00.

Meanwhile, the average price of a 50-gram packet of rolling tobacco at British supermarket chain Tesco can cost as much as £35 (€40.45). In the Republic it is around €6.80 for 30g and in the north around €3.00 for 50g.

The price disparity does make smuggling tobacco products to the United Kingdom an attractive proposition, and since Brexit the UK laws regarding tobacco imports seem to be lenient.

The British government states that “there are no limits to the alcohol and tobacco you can bring in [to the country] from EU countries.”

However, they say people are “more likely to be asked questions” by their own customs officials if they arrive with more than 800 cigarettes or a kilogram of tobacco.

The Cypriot side, too, said it would not stop those taking correctly taxed tobacco and ciagarettes out of the country, namely those products bought in the Republic.

The Customs Department said their interest is ensuring the correct taxes are paid in Cyprus, and their aim is to find tobacco bought in the north.

“If someone buys tobacco products and pays the appropriate taxes on them in the Republic of Cyprus, our job is not to confiscate those products from them provided they were acquired legally,” they said.

They added, “the United Kingdom enforces its own laws regarding the import of tobacco products into their own country, and we enforce our laws regarding tobacco products in our own country. Our focus is on ensuring the correct taxes are paid in Cyprus and stopping illegal products being smuggled here through the north.”